Friday, March 02, 2007

Truth and consequences

Yesterday, it was revealed in the New York Times and Washington Post that contrary to the allegations made in 2002 by the Bush administration that North Korea was developing an enriched uranium program that could be used for the development of nuclear weapons, intelligence officials did not have "high confidence" this was the case. As reported here previously, the Bush administration scrapped the agreement with North Korea that froze their earlier plutonium production program. Under that agreement, the program was frozen and international inspectors were allowed in the country in exchange for oil. The Bush administration suspended the oil shipments. North Korea then kicked out the inspectors and picked up the plutonium program from where they left off developing a nuclear bomb.

This is just more evidence that the American people cannot trust this administration to make wise decisions and cannot trust this administration to tell the truth. This administration’s credibility is paper thin at best.

Fred Kaplan in Slate has this assessment of yesterday’s news:
The revelation is stunning on two levels.

First, it suggests that the Bush administration could have struck a deal to halt the North Koreans' nuclear-weapons program five years ago—before they reprocessed 8,000 nuclear fuel rods into plutonium, before they tested a nuclear bomb for the first time, before they officially became a "nuclear-weapons state."

Second (and this is the reason for the "no-confidence" stamp), it shows that Bush and his people will say anything, no matter whether it's true, in order to shore up a political point. It means that U.S. intelligence has become completely corrupted.

It would be nice to know whether Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents with particularly deadly explosives. It would be nice to know how far along the Iranians are coming with their (quite real) enriched-uranium program. It would be nice to know lots of things about this dangerous world. Or it would, at least, be nice to have a true sense of how much our intelligence agencies know about such things.

But we don't know how much these agencies know, because we can have no confidence in what the Bush administration tells us they know.

Why are senior officials suddenly saying that North Korea might not have an enriched-uranium program? No new information has come to light on the issue. They are saying this for one reason: President Bush recently agreed to a nuclear deal with the North Koreans; the deal says nothing about enriched uranium (it requires them only to freeze their plutonium-bomb program); so, in order to stave off the flood of criticism from Bush's conservative base, senior officials are saying that the enriched uranium was never a big deal to begin with.

It's unclear whether it was, or is, a big deal or not. But President Bush and his aides consistently claimed it was a big deal from October 2002 until just this week. It was such a big deal to them that they cited it as justification for pulling out of President Clinton's 1994 "Agreed Framework" accord, which had kept North Korea's nuclear reactor under constant monitoring by international inspectors and its nuclear fuel rods kept under lock and key.

After Bush withdrew from the Agreed Framework, the North Koreans booted the inspectors, unlocked the fuel rods, reprocessed them into plutonium, and built at least one atomic bomb (they exploded it in a test last fall) and possibly a half-dozen or so more.

… in October 2002, when Bush was looking for any excuse to back out of the Agreed Framework, senior officials said the evidence of enriched uranium was strong.

Now, four and a half years later, when Bush is looking for reasons to justify a deal that's remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (except it's not quite as tight, and the North Koreans have since become a nuclear-armed nation), senior officials are saying the evidence of enriched uranium is weak.

Does North Korea have a secret enriched-uranium program? Is Iran supplying deadly explosives to Iraqi insurgents? How close is Iran to building its own nuclear weapon? These questions may play a huge role in decisions of war and peace. Not even reasonably well-read citizens have much basis for answering them independently. We have no choice but to rely on what our leaders tell us about intelligence reports. In that sense, it doesn't much matter what the real answers are, because we have no reason to believe anything the current leaders tell us.
You can read Kaplan's complete article here.

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